Disney In Depth: ‘Tarzan’ Revisited 15 Years Later
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Later this summer Disney will release the first United States Blu-ray of Tarzan, its 1999 animated feature. Disney’s take on the legendary man among the apes swung into our lives some 15 years ago. Its impact, much like that of another animated, African-set adventure (The Lion King) can be found in many areas across The Walt Disney Company. The breathtakingly beautiful film offers the emotional resonance of Disney’s most renowned classics. Likewise, its stellar soundtrack is like none the studio had developed up to that point.

Grab a vine and get ready to remember why Tarzan remains in many an individual’s heart.

Poor Tarzan was not immune from the perils that mark most Disney animated protagonists. His parents are killed – by a fierce leopard named Sabor – and he is abandoned in a treehouse. Around the same time compassionate gorilla Kala suffers the loss of her young one by Sabor. Two worlds collide when the maternal ape takes in baby Tarzan as her own, despite being dismissed by her mate, the ultra-macho Kerchak. It is Kala who shows Tarzan how to love, no matter the differences that seem to separate individuals of different species. Likewise, best buddy Terk the gorilla teaches Tarzan about the ways of life. Ultimately, though, the enchanting ape researcher Jane, a polite English woman studying the creatures with her professor father, demonstrates to Tarzan what it is like to fall in love.

This compelling story, complete with a nasty villain, amusing sidekicks, and a riveting animation style that heavily incorporates CGI imagery to create deep canvas backgrounds, won over many audience members – myself included. Tarzan temporarily put Disney animation back in business after experiencing financial disappointments with Hercules and Mulan. I was just an elementary school-aged kid when I first saw Tarzan back in theatres 15 years ago. But despite my young age, I could see how many valuable elements worked harmoniously to form a cohesive and most enjoyable picture. Tarzan has since remained one of my most favorite films from the 1990s.

Disney knows how to appropriately cast Hollywood stars to voice its dynamic characters. For Tarzan, Disney turned to Tony Goldwyn, who, up until that point, had mainly played supporting roles. His deep voice and great acting abilities made for a perfect man who had grown up among the apes. Goldwyn has recently risen to heightened fame for his captivating portrayal of President Fitzgerald Grant on ABC’s buzz-worthy Scandal. Minnie Driver, who had gained public notice for her work in 1997’s Good Will Hunting, was cast as Jane, ideally capturing the lady’s lovely, but particular nature. International actor Brian Blessed lent fine voice work to Clayton, the evil gorilla killer. Glenn Close returned to Disney after depicting Cruella de Vil in 1996’s live-action 101 Dalmatians by voicing good-natured Kala. Tarzan‘s other acting coup was getting Rosie O’Donnell to voice troublesome Terk.

Disney’s most inspired casting, though, could be interpreted as enticing superstar Phil Collins to provide Tarzan‘s five main songs. The British singer, perhaps at the peak of his career some 10 years before Tarzan, regained major attention for his driving and lyrically beautiful songs within the animated feature. “You’ll Be In My Heart” obtained both a Grammy and Oscar. The soundtrack, including hits like “Strangers Like Me” and “Son of Man,” contributed to the album reaching high points on the Billboard charts. The exciting and emotionally wrenching songs are ones I continue to listen to on my iPod, because Collins’ energy and skill come through so brightly here. After Tarzan, Collins was named a Disney Legend and provided the often under-appreciated pieces for 2003’s Brother Bear.

Individuals have been able to listen to Tarzan‘s songs in multiple contexts. For many years Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida presented a stage show featuring the characters, as well as skaters. Many Disney parades and night shows have incorporated “You’ll Be In My Heart,” and the Tarzan soundtrack can be heard within the treehouse that bears the ape man’s name in Disneyland’s Adventureland. Tarzan’s music expanded in scope and popularity with the debut of the short-lived Broadway show (a video below from the Disney On Broadway YouTube channel depicts many highlights). Though it didn’t reach the heights of Disney’s previous productions in New York, the show has since played regionally in various cities and countries around the world.

Great characters, groundbreaking animation, and genuinely awesome music mark the best Disney animated films. Tarzan possesses all three qualities. I fondly reflect back on the animated feature by recalling how thrilling it was to watch such an intriguing, albeit animated, character on screen in a moving and continually engaging feature. 15 years later, I am still in awe of how these talented minds in Disney animation formed a masterful film set in a mysterious jungle. “Keep your faith in what you most believe in,” the lyrics state. I believe in the message of Tarzan, in that as clichéd as it may be, the feelings we share in our hearts defy the differences that define the surface level. Pound your chests in unity to laud Tarzan for sharing that gift.

What do you most enjoy about Tarzan? Share your thoughts!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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